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The Electoral College: Time to get rid of this colonial-era relic | Bill Cotterell

Bill Cotterell
Capital Curmudgeon

Candidate Joe Biden wisely resisted some of the more extreme ideas pressed upon him by the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

When he becomes President Joe Biden next month, there will be no Medicare for All, no statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, no packing of the Supreme Court. But one goal advanced by the new breed “progressives” deserves some attention in the next four years.

The liberals are right about abolishing the Electoral College. It’s long past time Americans should just go vote for presidents and be done with it.

It won’t happen. Many people in smaller states think, without this archaic and un-democratic system, they’ll get no attention from presidential candidates — that Los Angeles, New York and a few other big urban areas will deliver blocs of votes to the most liberal nominees every four years.

Well, guess what. They’re not getting a whole lot of attention now. And even if candidates campaigned in Montana or Alabama, have you ever voted for a presidential candidate because he visited your state? 

True, Trump and Biden fought for little Nevada, but that was because it was closely split and winnable by either side — not because either man thought the race would come down to those six electoral votes.

We lucked out this time. Biden led the nationwide popular vote by about 6 million and won 306 electoral votes. That’s still being disputed by Trump and his most diehard believers but, in the real world, Biden got 36 more electoral votes than he needed.

More:Florida’s 29 electoral votes are cast for Trump, who won state’s popular vote

More:Joe Biden won the Electoral College. Here's what happens next in the election process

Still, a shift of about 50,000 in three states might have thrown the contest into the House of Representatives, where Trump probably would have won.

Two of the last three presidents won with fewer real votes than their opponents polled. George W. Bush and Trump won states with more than 270 electoral votes, although more people voted for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.

There have been a few other times that the first runner-up in the popular vote scored an upset in the Electoral College.

Maybe the system made sense 250 years ago, when few people were literate and the 13 original states jealously guarded their sovereignty like little European kingdoms. But with our concept of one person, one vote today it is illogical that my vote in Florida is worth almost 10 times someone’s vote in Wyoming.

Looked at another way, hundreds of thousands who voted for Trump in California had nothing to show for it last Monday, as all 55 of that state’s electors went for Biden. All but two states, Maine and Nebraska, award electoral votes winner-take-all.

Some leftist members of Congress will try to abolish the Electoral College next year but there’s no way a constitutional amendment will get through. Nor would 38 states ratify such an amendment if Congress sends one forth.

A National Popular Vote Interstate Compact initiative is afoot as state legislators convene early next year. It would nullify the Electoral College, without eliminating it.

Under that agreement, once states holding 270 electoral votes adopt it, those states would cast their electoral votes for the nationwide popular vote leader — even if the people of those states go the other way. So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia, totaling 196 electoral votes, have signed on.

Organizers are concentrating on nine states with 88 electoral votes next year, enough for the compact to kick in before the next presidential campaign.

But short of a constitutional amendment, there’s a good legal argument against the pact. If I vote for someone in 2024, and he or she carries Florida, I deserve to have the state’s electors represent my vote faithfully — regardless what any or all of 49 other states do. If the interstate compact ever passes, it will wind up in court.

Colorado was the latest state to join the pact. In a referendum last month, 52% of that state’s voters decided to stick with it.

There’s no chance of Florida joining. The Electoral College put Trump in office and it’s been his last, failing hope of staying there. Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders are still afraid of him and will want Trump tweeting on their behalf in future races.

But if we believe in equality, if we value people over state boundaries, there’s no reason we should choose presidents by a system written with quill pens.

Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at bcotterell@tallahassee.com.

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